Acting “As for Years”

Millennials can be nomads. Since I graduated high school, I have bounced around from activity to activity and location to location in increments ranging from six weeks to one year. Since 2014, I have worked in every time zone in the contiguous United States, and have had four different jobs. I’ve also changed wards, callings, and had many of my friends get married. In the midst of so many life changes, it can feel like uncertainty becomes the status quo. And when so much uncertainty is the status quo, it can be tempting to bide my time and wait until the next life change occurs to “really” start living my life.

For example, my third transfer of my mission was especially difficult for me. I was a relatively new missionary and was gung-ho about the work (admittedly, probably obnoxiously so). My companion and I had very different personalities, and prior to being paired with me he had been dealt a string of rough companions who hadn’t been particularly interested in missionary work. In addition, he had been struggling with some back problems that made tracting and other missionary activities more difficult.

At the time, I was frustrated with the situation, and with how much time I had spent not doing missionary work the way I thought it should be done. (I cataloged our whole area book by geographic area during one week). After about two weeks, I started to have thoughts creep in: “just hold out for another four weeks… you have been moved every transfer so far, and you’ll probably get transferred again.” After a couple days of this really negative thinking, I started to wonder, “what if I am stuck in this area for a long time? Maybe I’ll be with this companion for six months… or longer!” As I began to have all of these feelings, I came across a scripture that really struck me. It describes God’s counsel to early Mormons who had been driven from city to city, and across states. I’m sure many of them thought, “why should I build a house or till the field?…I’m probably going to be driven out soon anyway.” The scripture states,  

16 And I consecrate unto them this land for a little season, until I, the Lord, shall provide for them otherwise, and command them to go hence;

17 And the hour and the day is not given unto them, wherefore let them act upon this land as for years, and this shall turn unto them for their good. (D&C 51:16-17)

After reading that scripture, I realized that my attitude needed to change. I decided to treat the area and my companion as if I would be there for a long time. As I did that, my heart softened, and I was more compassionate and understanding of the challenges my companion was going through. As I saw my companion, and the area, through new eyes, I began to be a better friend to him, and I also tried to think of different ways my companion and I could improve the long-term trajectory of the work in that area. Consequently, the work in that area began to pick up, and we started teaching more people, and even had a miracle baptism right before I got transferred (which happened to be at the end of the transfer).

Similar thoughts can plague all aspects of our lives, whether it be jobs, classes, relationships, wards, spirituality, etc. It can be easy to ignore the many opportunities our circumstances in life can afford us if we are too busy assuming that we will not be “there” long enough to make a difference. I have wondered how my actions and perspective would have changed in some circumstances if I had more fully acted upon my endeavor “as for years.” Dennis Gaunt wrote, “When we ‘act upon this land as for years,’ we begin to recognize opportunities we may not have seen before. We may also see that some of these opportunities may never come our way again. Then we think, ‘As long as I’m here, I’m going to get involved, do the best I can, and choose to be happy. I’ll continue to hope for the future, but in the meantime, let me do some good here.’ It’s the difference between treading water and actually swimming.”

Dennis points out that “acting upon the land as for years” does not mean we cannot hope for a brighter future, and it doesn’t mean we do not work to improve our station in life. We can take a long-term view while still deciding to end a relationship, or to get a new job, or to move to a new city. Nonetheless, while we are in that relationship, job, city, etc. we should do everything we can to cultivate actions that would produce sustainable contentment, and to leave the situation better than we found it.

I conclude by sharing this analogy from Whitney L. Clayton:

A few years ago I saw an example of this principle in nature. We have a large pot filled with flowers on the walkway leading to our front door. The pot sits under a scrub oak tree. One fall a few acorns fell from the scrub oak tree into the pot. The next year the oak sprouts became visible by early summer, when I started to pull them out so the flowers in the pot could look their best. Just a leaf or two of each acorn’s new tiny scrub oak seedling had become visible. As I pulled the little seedlings from the pot, the roots kept coming and coming. The seedlings had long, skinny roots that were thrusting themselves ever deeper into the soil. The roots in the soil were much longer than the seedlings above the soil.

Likewise, we would be wise to sink our roots into the pot in which we are planted and not wait for a later time or a different place or a new pot. No matter how “little [our] season,” we should act upon this, our land, “as for years.” We sink our roots by getting involved, making friends, seeking opportunities for service, accepting and then magnifying callings, attending the temple, and joining in community efforts. Sending our roots deep will enrich our experience and bless others as well. We may be plucked up and moved to some new place when our friendships or jobs are just tiny seedlings, still with barely a leaf to be seen, but sinking our roots gives us experience and will “turn unto [us] for [our] good.” This is particularly applicable to those who are single, in graduate school, or know they will soon move and who may be tempted to hold back and let others do the heavy lifting of earnest Church work. It’s a mistake to put our baptismal covenants on hold that way. You may not think you will be in this particular pot for very long, and you probably won’t be, but your life will be richer and your opportunities enhanced if you treat this time and this place and this situation as your promised land.